Friday, February 12, 2010

Close Stoves and Box Stoves --
Keeping Warm in the Regency

While writing my latest Regency "The Harmless Deception" (to be released in May) I had occasion to wonder how the heroine Grace Whitton heated her shop and her residential rooms above it. I realized that the heating would have to be done with stoves, and I had only a vague idea of the state of heating technology at the time.

So I did a little research--not a lot because of time restraints--but enough to come up with a few interesting facts.

The fireplace and open fire dominated for heating and cooking technology until the nineteenth century. But in the early 1700's cast iron stoves were being developed. The first, developed in Germany, were called five-plate stoves, but were quickly superceded by six-plate, or close, stoves.

By 1790 the now-named 'box' stoves had been improved to include ten-plate models which held an oven and two hinged doors. These designs were rudimentary cook stoves, and development of them continued apace.

I discovered this portrait of Emile Jean Horace Vernet leaning on his (apparently cold) stove, and realized it was just such an appliance that must have heated Grace Whitton's millinery shop. Although hers would have been in much better repair! And I am certain she had a ten-plate stove above-stairs in her rooms, for heating and basic cooking.

After 1820 stove technology blossomed, leading to the ornate iron monsters of mid-century. These were foreshadowed by the stoves of Abraham Buzaglo in the 1770s. One of my favourite blogs 'Two Nerdy History Girls' recently posted on his stoves; click here to learn more. The surely much-appreciated cooking ranges that revolutionized Victorian kitchens appeared by 1830 and society was in possession of a whole new technology.

But for much of the Regency world the open fire and the simple box stove was the heating, and cooking, source available. The Regency was in this, as in so many other ways, on the cusp between old and new worlds.

In winter it always occurs to me to think of heat and light sources, so vital in the north where I live. I must admit I fear power outages in winter, and I'm so glad always for the return of the longer days about now. I hope your winter has been warm and bright--any stories to tell?

Til next time,


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